toyportfolio: Toy Trends 2010

February 14, 2010

With the pre-toy fair events behind us, we start the hunt for the best toys of 2010 tomorrow in earnest. Thousands of exhibitors, both large and small, present their new toys at the International Toy Fair in NYC. When I started covering toy fair, the big guys were all at the Toy Building at 23rd Street and Broadway.  We would try to schedule our appointments so that we could walk our way down the building. The elevators – always a scary event were full of buyers, toy makers and reps…and when I first started, they all seemed to smoke. It was really gross.  Of course, this was also the era of showbiz at toy fair. There were life size women that became Malibu Barbie…complete with pink shag rugs, moving stages and spotlights. If Hasbro was introducing a new pirates toy, you could count on  pirates carrying on a sword fight in the showroom.  There was plenty of sizzle!  Now it’s just a trade show–all of the actors are gone. The toy building is being converted into condos. Even Matchbox has stopped giving out special toy fair editions (very sad). In any case…here’s what we see as the emerging trends.

Retro is In

Strawberry Shortcake, Alfie, Monopoly, Life, Twister–are all major players at toy fair this season. Monopoly now comes with a board you build yourself or here’s  a break through, a round play board (see below) as part of Monopoly Revolution. Pretty revolutionary–it takes two million dollars to pass go!  The new versions of Twister no longer have that wonderfully smelly plastic mat.  Many of these versions look like fun.  And let’s face it with the Twister brand, you’re probably more likely to try it than if it had a whole new name!

Life Celebrates its 50th Anniversary!

Monopoly Revolution

Licenses Prevail

If there’s a successful franchise, you’ll see it everywhere. Ironman is back  full force and Star Wars has captured the hearts of a whole new generation thanks to the Clone Wars. But we wonder whether Weebles really needed to incorporate the Hulk and Spiderman?

Weebles now with the Hulk and Spiderman

Battle of the Battling

There will be a battle for your child’s battle dollars between Spinmaster’s Bakugan and Hasbro’s Beyblade. This will be determined by the nearest 8 and 9 year old near you!

Hasbro's Beyblade

Zhu Zhu Pets are Challenged- Last year’s run away hit is being challenged by Hasbro who wants part of that rodent action and is introducing a competing line of motion activated pets called Furry Frenzies.

Furry Frenzy to Compete with Zhu Zhu Pets

Sushi and Microwavable Easy Bake food

Food is big in toyland. Last year we got at least a dozen different food related kits including a motion activated birthday cake (Leapfrog). This year the trend continues with Sushi Ottomans (sushistyle.com) and perhaps one of the biggest sign of the times, Easy Bake Kits for the microwave. It’s as if maybe enough kids mentioned in a focus group that they could make the same food in 2 minutes in their microwave!

Retro Dolls

Barbie is all about looking back at her past careers and Strawberry Shortcake, now 30 is a little big taller!

Barbie Student Teacher 1964

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What’s It All About Alfie?

February 13, 2010

If you get the movie reference, then chances are you probably remember the original learning toy, Alfie. For a generation that grew up with the Robot on Lost in Space, it was a pretty cool concept for a  toy. Hasbro is reintroducing Alfie at this year’s International Toy Fair in New York, and his reappearance I’m afraid pretty much sums up the feeling of an industry that faces a shrinking audience, a global recession and, oh yes, and still recovering from a little pr problem over safety issues.

I don’t know why but as soon as I saw Alfie, I kept thinking of the Godfather quote “go to the mattresses”… In addition to Alfie, there were lots of other familiar faces at both Hasbro and Mattel. Strawberry Shortcake, now a sophisticated 30 years old, has been up-sized, and is positioned to appeal to moms who played with the original. Monopoly, Battleship, Twister, Sorry, Life have all been reworked (often cleverly–sometimes tortured) into new variations–once again to appeal to that sentimental place in our toy-buying hearts.

If technology worked last year, chances are you’ll see it again with a slightly new look. Talking trucks, motion-activated rodents, RC cars that flip, virtual pets…they’re all back.

So while this may not be a breakthrough year of innovation (do you blame anyone for not betting the farm this past year on something untried?) — you will find lots of solid choices that may give you a strong sense of deja vu.


Monopoly: Old School

February 3, 2010

I grew up playing Monopoly with my brothers. Truth be told my involvement in any given round was pretty brief.  They were both older, I would trade away all the good properties…and I would be out of the game in what always seemed like minutes. To make matters worse, they had a rule that the loser always had to put the game away–so when they were done, I was left to put the pieces away.  When I got older and could play with my friends, my math anxiety would usually kick in and I would never want to be the banker…but still there was some math to be done. I was a big fan of collection the railroads.  When I first met my husband, I tried playing Monopoly with him. I quickly discovered he learned Monopoly from the same school as my brothers!

So when I had my kids, I determined to create  a kinder and gentler Monopoly environment.  We would be thoughtful and supportive….ok, so that lasted for about ten minutes. I quickly found that my kids loved the wheeling and dealing that their father and uncles enjoyed.  The games were always loud…often ending in some tears (and a family meeting about feelings and good sportsmanship).  I always wonder if other people play Monopoly quietly–or if that’s just our family. We’re pretty noisy in general.

If I look back on my Monopoly experiences, it’s a wonder really why I feel fondly about the game – but I do.

So when they roll out new versions, I’m always game.  Unfortunately, I haven’t really loved many of the “improvements”.  The last few years have brought an electronic scorer–taking away the wonderful math experience of paying for properties. Whether you could always do the calculations in your head (like my friend Lisa)…or needed a little paper…this was part of the game.

This year we got Championship Edition Monopoly…it comes with a trophy –and a nameplate that can be changed as the names change.  Now I don’t know about you–but in any of the houses I grew up in, this is just asking for a dispute. Even if your kids can share the title, I also really don’t like the score pad where you tally up the value of your properties. I much prefer looking at what you have and adding it up…the score pad complicates the whole experience.

For 2010, Hasbro is rolling out two new versions. One is Monopoly Revolution Edition ($34.99, available for fall 2010) – You’ll see that the game board is now round and looks ever so Apple-like. The round electronic game unit keeps track of where you are on the board and promises to have song clips including “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang and “Drive My Car” by The Beatles.  Ok, this may be fun–but it’s not really Monopoly.  Keeping an open mind though. 

Then there’s Monopoly U-Build ($19.99, available for fall 2010)…here you’ll notice you are building your own board.  This version inspired by the original looked like it could be fun.  The big selling point to parents is that the size of the board that you build will determine the length of your game play – so if you only have 30 minutes to play, you can customize the board accordingly…that’s a fun concept.


Monopoly Town

May 29, 2008

We thought this was such a clever preschool version of the classic game.  Mr. Monopoly is in a little car (very cute) and he travels around the board on a little track.  All very age appropriate and fun so far.  He tells you how many spaces to move–which is also fun and interactive.  You know there’s a but coming….right?

The problem is that when you move him, he sometimes gets stuck and/or moves too quickly and when he does either, the count is off.  The whole concept of having a concrete moving “counting” experience is lost since it’s not always accurate. Too bad.  We hope they can address this issue — the premise of the game is fun.